(122-12-09) When Widows Meet
When Widows Meet
Summary: Almost but not quite on the eve of her second marriage, Lady Marsei Hightower is surprised by a visit from a slightly-known but well-remembered cousin, Lady Joyeuse Hastwyck.
Date: 09/12/122 AL
Related: None.

The third level of the ancient Hightower is gleaming and bright outside the suites of the Hightowers themselves, lit by many candles now that the sky has darkened outside the massive window. It is outside these suites that Lady Marsei stands near that very window; while, just hours ago, early wedding guests buzzed around her non-stop, she now finds a quieter moment here close to her personal suite. Quiet, but not alone: she's ensconced in some manner of conversation with another noblewoman, of nearly equal dainty height but brown ringlets where hers are gentle red waves.

"Perhaps the interests of your house ought not be a concern of mine any longer," Marsei is saying, hushed, and her tone ever-so-slightly anxious; gentle, still, despite the tensions, "but nor should Dhraegon be a concern of yours." The Hightower turned Fossoway soon to be bound to the Targaryen empire turns toward the window, folding her pale arms over her chest. The candle-light warms the gauzy fabric of her gown, but cannot disguise the fact that it is an optimistic summer pink and bears no resemblance to Fire and Blood.

This private chat is destined to be private no longer: several sets of footsteps on the great staircase, muted as they approach from below by the rich carpeting laid down through these levels inhabited by the great and the glorious, attended by a rustling, inspire the two young ladies perhaps to draw apart before the advent of spying eyes and listening ears.

And then a small party rounds the curve in the tower, a handsome young guard and a plain-faced older serving-maid dogging the footsteps of a lady whose gown and hair and reputed passions could provide quite enough fire and blood for anyone's tastes.

Absent this past year from Oldtown, the widowed Lady Hastwyck has made good her return — in radiant health, high spirits, and a gown which surely one of Lady Marsei Hightower's connections will recognise as an exemplar of the latest courtly style, executed in cherry-red Dornish sandsilk. Beyond that she's wreathed in smiles and dripping with pearls, the size and the lustre and the golden tinge and the unmistakable truth of which mark them as a superbly handsome gift from some friend or another (it would be indelicate to inquire). Not only a complex many-stranded necklace about her throat, but pearls twining round a wrist, pearls clustering at her earlobes and brightening two fingers, pearls crowning her and woven into several braids among those riotous dark red curls worn half-up and half-down, less tidy with each passing hour… Pearls glowing in the candlelight, as her ample bosom lifts with a drawn-in breath, to be let out again in a gasp of delight. Her smile broadens.

"Oh — oh, there you are!" she exclaims in simple, unalloyed gratitude. "The stairs are so much worse than I remembered — oh, Marsei, I'm not too late, am I, to congratulate you—?"

The grand arrival halts the brown-haired lady's well-spoken murmuring; she is the first to turn her round face to the arrivals, a split second before Marsei whirls away from the window in surprise. Her eyes are wide and expectant before she even sees who trekked up the stairs; when she recognizes the woman, she lights up brighter than every candle on the landing. "Lady Joyeuse!" she exclaims with pure, benevolent enthusiasm. She rushes forward — elegant, nevertheless, on her feet - to take Joyeuse's elbows and peck her lightly upon each cheek in a ladylike fashion. "On the contrary, you have arrived just in time!"

If there was tension between Marsei and the brown-haired lady, it has disintegrated, at least by half; the other appears slightly perturbed to have been interrupted, standing by in quiet. She wears a simple but fine gown in a deep red, embroidered with gold flowers and apples.

Half-measures not being in Lady Joyeuse's line, whilst she's touching her own full and perhaps slightly unnaturally reddened lips to Lady Marsei's cheeks she converts that more casual touch into an outright embrace, one pearl-bedecked arm slipping round the younger woman's waist and the other hand stroking her shoulder as she holds her tight just for a moment, as pleased to be welcomed as the other is to welcome her. Then of course she has to pull away, holding her arms as intended, just to get a good look at her and see if— "Oh, Seven above, you're such a beauty!" she sighs, lifting her grey-green gaze to the heavens. Or at any rate to the ceiling. "Your betrothal really must be agreeing with you… Am I in time?" she reiterates, and, reassured by the look in her cousin's eyes, she beams at her. "I could never have forgiven myself if I hadn't been here to wish you well on your wedding day. I meant to come a week sooner, you know, but my carriage lost its wheel and— oh, trouble upon trouble," she trails off vaguely, her shoulders lifting beneath their filmy covering of red sandsilk.

Her maid and her guard are hovering together at a distance, their hearts by now deadened to her effusions.

A faint "mm!" of breath is squeezed from Marsei by the embrace, but she's quick to hug Joyeuse with an easy warmth. Her expression bears only warmth, in fact, exuding the effervescent sincerity she's known for, brightened ever more by her visiting cousin's beaming. "And you glitter like the stars and sun!" She similarly gets a fresh look at Joyeuse, gems and pearls and all, frankly starry-eyed herself in the face of such fashions, but before she gets distracted by shiny objects any further, her eyes widen all over again. "Trouble? Was it serious?" she asks, her concern quick to pique, almost naively blind to the vague trailing off. "Oh— " she sweeps a gesture to the brown-haired lady and introduces, "This is Lady Jana Fossoway, my goodsister." Are they such? A habit. In mere days' time, wedding Dhraegon will make new marriage-bound family out of princesses.

"Lady Joyeuse," the Fossoway greets, polite and, then, apologetic with a bob of her ringlets, "Unfortunately, I do think it is time I retire for the evening. A pleasure to meet you."

Oh, there's someone else here? In the bliss of the moment, Lady Joy hadn't quite… Her smile doesn't falter as, releasing Lady Marsei, she turns to the other and gathers handfuls of her gleaming and sinfully expensive skirts and executes the very merest, the very most graceful nod towards a curtsey. With that typical hint of mischief in her eyes it might almost be taken for a jest. "A pleasure to make your acquaintance, of course," she says pleasantly, "and I hope you shall pass a delightful evening." It wouldn't occur to her that anyone might be going to bed at this hour.

With the Fossoway lady's withdrawal her attention returns eagerly to her cousin. Distant enough, but isn't that the pleasure of cousins, rather than siblings? One may make of them what one wishes. "Not serious," she promises her with a laugh, "only tedious, when I wished above all things to be up and away, and to see you again… and to make my apology in person, for making my goodbyes in a letter. I can't think what you must have thought of me—!" Wistful sigh. "But, you know, sometimes one's life doesn't quite turn out as one intends… Would you have thought," she teases, glittering just as much as she's been accused of, "a year past, you would wed again so soon?"

Marsei smiles a goodnight to Lady Jana and does not look at her again as the Fossoway makes her way up the grand staircase. She is visibly relieved to hear of no dire troubles, and every smile and laugh of the Lady Joy's inspires one in hers - up until the mention of her wedding again so soon. Although her smile does not vanish, it flickers, thoughtful, and she glances outside the window as if the view will tell her something about how to answer. "A year past, I did not expect to ever marry again," she admits; a subtle hint of sadness — or mere reflection, maybe — touches her soft voice and, realizing, she smiles broader. No matter! "I thought nothing but kindness toward you, cousin, you musn't think otherwise!" she insists with unmarred optimism. "Come, do you want to sit with me? Would you like a drink? Food? Have you only just arrived from the road?"

Briefly pensive in reflection of her cousin's shift in demeanour, Lady Joy laughs again at her last — that same rich low sound all her own and nobody else's; and looks down at herself and runs a casual hand over her gown. "A few hours past," she admits; "I wouldn't dream of presenting myself in the Hightower with the dust of the road still on my hands…" It is not unchallenging to imagine her dusty. Disheveled, perhaps — her hair has a habit of tending in that direction — or just the tiniest bit sticky with the juice of some temptingly ripe fruit she couldn't resist — but even the sands of Dorne must have had a jolly hard time rendering her grubby.

"I took a chamber at the Golden Maiden," she confesses, leaning closer as though she were whispering a great secret, "though— I shall look for something else, tomorrow, something a little more permanent, for I should like to stay in Oldtown for a time… I've missed it," she sighs. "You're terribly sweet to me, you know, and I should adore to sit with you a while and to hear what I've missed… I wish I were better at writing letters, I really do, but it always seems, doesn't it, as though when one is in the midst of things one has hardly the time to be still and write about them…" She tilts her head, inviting agreement or, failing that, sympathy.

Marsei is smiles gently, meeting Joyeuse with both agreement and sympathy with one look. "The Golden Maiden is quaint, at least the downstairs," she addresses; and, coming from the sweet Hightower, it really is a compliment on the inn's loveliness, and she's only ever seen the downstairs. "But you're welcome to stay here," she offers true, turning to merrily lead the way to the doors of her suite, pushing the grand doors to open.

Alight with waiting candles, the suite is grand and spacious within, although not one of the most massive of the Hightowers'; it is, of course, lavish, decorated in gold and green and quite nearly any other colour that can be slipped into the decor by way of fresh flowers, many of them rare, some of them remarkably exotic. Her handmaiden, Siva — looking unlike Joyeuse's maid in every way except that she does not smile — appears from who-knows-where, at the ready.

The guard in Lady Joy's train remains outside, as is only proper — he might be useful for something or another, at some point, but certainly not during a private conversation between ladies. Her maid follows, either to sit in a corner and studiously ignore her betters, or to withdraw with Lady Marsei's Siva if she finds herself in receipt of that sort of look. We'll see.

"Well, the upstairs is… Well, it'll suffice for a night or two," allows the widow Hastwyck, who is accustomed it must be said to livelier company than the Golden Maiden could ever hope to provide. And then, "Oh, but I wouldn't have dreamt of— you must have wedding guests, invited wedding guests," and she laughs at herself, twining a loose red curl about a fingertip, "sleeping two to a chamber, on every floor… I wouldn't have thought to propose myself," she clarifies, "after who knows how long, even if we are cousins of a sort! I only knew, when I heard talk of your wedding, that by hook or by crook I must be there in the sept to see you restored to happiness… I hope?" she suggests gently, out of earshot of anyone but the two loyal maidservants. "I trust," she adds at once, "for you really are blooming." She has kept close to Lady Marsei; she looks into her eyes with honest care. To her a year's absence is nothing, if her heart has really been struck.

Marsei keeps leading to the living area of the chamber; there is an arrangement of couches, and beyond that, a small table with chairs. Since the hour wears on, and with a sense of Joyeuse, she chooses the less formal couches. She pauses between them to receive the honest look. Her smile is immediately poised to be reassuring, and — though it wasn't insincere to begin with — she gives Joyeuse's gaze the direct meeting it deserves. "I am happy," she says with a lift of brows that are paler than her bright hair, her lips softening. Her eyes are flush with warmth to prove it, although they can't be said to have the enamoured gleam of a woman thinking of her future husband. A prince. But anyone who's heard anything about Prince Dhraegon knows he is not in his prime, not in body nor in mind. She sits down in the corner of a couch. "Sometimes it— it hardly seems as though a whole year has passed, and yet in a blink everything has changed. Was it like that for you?" She looks up unsurely, as if to apologize for being blunt by habit, "When things change." When husbands die suddenly. You know. That sort of thing.

When Lady Marsei has seated herself her visitor sinks with an opulent rustle onto the same sofa, but not in the other corner — halfway along, pleasantly and confidentially close, her spicy fragrance constantly tickling at the nostrils. "Good," she says first, and means it. And then she closes her eyes and bites her lower lip and thinks about all this for a moment with a faintly dreamy expression. She opens them again. "In the blink of an eye," she agrees, "and then it was as though it had always been that way… Whichever way it was." A husband, a paramour, another husband. And that's just the official count. "You know… Or," another low laugh, "perhaps I didn't say…? Gylbert Hastwyck and I were wed in eight days, and if that isn't a blink…" Off the top of her head lustrous dark red head she can't quite recall what she said or didn't say, a year past; but surely Lady Marsei has heard some part of the tale of her marriage to a widower in his fifties, notorious for his fidelity to his late wife's memory until the very hour his gaze fell upon the widowed Lady Joyeuse Qorgyle.

However much Marsei knows or does not know, it doesn't prepare her for eight days. "Eight days!" she repeats, in fact, quietly aghast. "How-terrible, I'm sorry you had to go through that. What a whirlwind it must have been for you." She sounds more upset by the memory than the one who lived it. "Seven rest him," she says reverently and thinks to add, looking at her hands upon her silken lap, strands of red hair falling into profile where they're not swept back by the small braids at her temples. "Seven rest all of them."

The last thing the widow Hastwyck is, is upset. She laughs richly and leans over to take both Lady Marsei's hands in her own, her fingers long and soft and burdened by the largest pearls of all… "Oh!" she gasps. "Sweetling, I shouldn't laugh. It's only that—" With a sigh she manages to say, in a more sober voice, "Seven rest yours and mine," for though she didn't hear much about Lord Jarvas Fossaway, she knew mourning when she saw it. "But it wasn't terrible in the least, I promise you — I hadn't time for a new gown to be made, but that was my only regret." Her eyes dance; it's all quite believable. "We knew we'd leave Highgarden together and he wouldn't, he simply wouldn't, unless I was his wife first. That's why it was so swift. I was alone in the world — utterly alone — and then I wasn't." With this confidence, so earnestly uttered, she hopes to win a few in return — though she offers it just as much for its own sake, to reassure Lady Marsei that her marriage isn't the queerest of them all.

Thoughts of strife do begin to lift from Marsei's gaze, drawn up along with her hands. Above all, it's curiosity that builds in her gaze on Joyeuse, lively and twinkling in the attempt to imagine, to understand. "How different and the same we are at once," she marvels. She her head toward Joyeuse's wild red curls ever-so-slightly, as if to conspire, although her voice bears no tone of saucy gossip; only interested inquiry. "And now?" A lot can change in a year, as they've determined. "Are you to remain the widow?"

The elder lady lets go of the younger's hands. She smiles more wistfully now, at the suggestion of romance in her own life, despite the extraordinary gown and the frankly jaw-dropping pearls hung all over her wherever there's room. "Yes, of course," she says in a light tone; "well, where would I find another Gylbert…?" Naturally he's her standard, whatever the world may have thought of their mesalliance. "My last offer—" Her shoulders shift in an elegant shrug and she breathes out another little laugh. "Well, shall I say, his reasons weren't the right ones? You know, there might be all kinds of right reasons…" Is that a nudge? "But there are such a lot of dreadful ones, too, don't you think? Other people's, usually, not one's own!"

Marsei smiles in an admiring sort of way at the elder lady as she implies her standards and her offers, and she seems on the verge of a laugh, but looks uncertain. "I suppose so," she agrees after a pause, more than her word suggest, looking thoughtfully down. Siva hasn't been beckoned, but she appears just then, quietly setting a tray down on the low table in front of the ladies. It bears two cups and two varieties of wine — Arbor red and sweet plum — just incase. Marsei smiles at her but doesn't touch it. "Well, to happiness," she beams at Joyeuse, "with or without husbands."

Oh, wine… how marvelous. Free wine, too. The most delicious kind. Not being the hostess Lady Joy is in two minds about what to do with it; but fortunately Lady Marsei's words contain a suggestion. "Is that a toast?" she teases — and, narrowing her eyes at the two bottles, racking her not always reliable recollections for the memory of what was drunk before in these chambers, her hand falls upon… the sweet plum wine. She pours first into Lady Marsei's cup and then her own, adding, "To happiness. With friends, shall we say—?" Her eyebrows lift. "Whether or not they be husbands as well. Though when they are… Oh, that's just what I'd wish you."

"Friends," Marsei repeats fondly, cup in hand, "Friends, for certain." She drinks to that, a certainty to her sip to seal the toast, although it remains delicate. "There is no friendlier than Prince Dhraegon," she adds, near to laughing afterward; there is fondness, too, in the statement. Rather than linger on her betrothed, however, her face alights, recalling to tell her cousin, "The Hightower has more rooms than anywhere in all the Seven Kingdoms. Ormund wouldn't think of turning away anyone with our mother's blood." She lifts the cup higher, a sparkle in her eye — fleeting, but undeniable. "We have rarely been better stocked in wine."

Friends. The elder widow blossoms beneath the words of the younger, shifting slightly in her position upon the sofa, as though only those phrases had been lacking to encourage her to settle in more comfortably. And then! Ah, a tidbit! It is zealously filed away, with perhaps a faint flutter of sooty eyelashes to show that such has been done. "… Am I drinking one of your wedding gifts?" Lady Joy inquires, leaning in again in faux-scandalised amusement. Without waiting for an answer she goes on. "Do you suppose… ought I to inquire, then? If there really is room enough beneath your house's—" Her eyes flick up, to the imagined expanse of the Hightower. "Rather lofty roof? I confess I really don't know your lord brother well, and I don't know where he and I might stand with one another," this a delicate allusion to what is said of her in certain uncharitable quarters. "It was Ser Orland who made me welcome the last time I arrived in Oldtown alone, and uncertain of what arrangements would be most suitable…"

Marsei lowers her head modestly when she picks up on Joyeuse's hunger for more insight, although she does smile. A small measure of tension makes gains around Marsei's eyes over allusions to the other lady's reputation in some areas, on the very verge of looking worried. "Well…" she says quietly, not wanting to give words to it. "My lord brother is always fair, and you are my wedding guest now!" she decides with a cheerful bob of her head, as if that is that, no more to be done.

It's all right. She needn't say it. It's understood, as Lady Joy indicates with a long look and a slow smile and a gentle nod. "All I'd ask of anyone is to treat me fairly, you know," she points out softly, using her cousin's own word, "to judge me by what they know of me in truth. Not by the casual gossip of those who think I'm a tale to be told, and not a living woman who has a heart and a soul and tears to be shed…" But that's a little maudlin for her; she laughs again and drinks from her cup and rests her empty hand upon Lady Marsei's. "There's nothing I'd rather be just now, sweetling, than your wedding guest," she declares passionately. "I had only the one wedding myself, you know — you know now — the other time it was in such a rush, with no gown and no feast and no friends about me; and so I do love other people's… I think there's something so marvelously hopeful about a wedding. Even — especially! — a second marriage, when one has the liberty to make a choice that's a little more of one's own. Mine was…" Her eyes close again; she regains that faraway, wistful look.

Marsei appears touched by Joy's words, even those that are about Joy herself — and even if they're a bit maudlin, in the end, she wouldn't have noticed. She slips her hand from Joy's only to be the one to lay it atop hers, a clear gesture of absolute understanding.

And the wine flows freely, into one cup more than the other; and several further discreet approaches are essayed to the secrets widows might hold in common; and laughter on one hand modest and on the other voluptuous rings out late into the evening, till the Jana Fossoways of the world have all been tucked up in their beds for hour upon hour and Lady Joy can, at last, with promise upon promise, with fond goodnight kisses, tear herself away.

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